Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Flower of Shanidar

WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

“The "shanidar flower" only grows on certain women. Mysterious buds germinate on their skin and then bloom into beautiful flowers whose extracts lead to a new miracle drug at the "Shanidar Laboratory". Kyoko and Ohtaki work at the lab, and are always on the lookout for new donors, but not all women are cooperative. That's when Kyoko's charm comes into play. Meanwhile, abnormal side effects begin to appear stemming from the flower-removal surgery. Harvesting these flowers may be triggering something dangerous.” (Festival's Program)

The movie opens on a commentary that explains how flowers are responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs because plants developed them as a defence mechanism (I am not sure this make sense). Kyoko joins the scientific team of Shanidar Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Yoshizaki and his assistant Dr. Otaki. Her role is to help recruit study subjects and care for them (mostly psychologically).

It is not explained why the flower grows on women or why some women and not others. Are the flowers implanted? If not why bothering searching for candidates? It's not made clear. Maybe flowers are usually removed upon discovery unless the candidate accepts to bring it to term for an handsome rewards. The story follows three candidates: Yurie, Miku and Haruka. The movie spends lots of time showing us how the flowers are taken care of and developing the candidates character. The flowers always grow on the chest (near the heart?) and are wrapped in a protective cushion and a hard container with screwing top so its growth can be regularly monitored. Candidates live in a sanatorium-type environment with simple but futuristic Ikea-like living quarters.

Unfortunately, flowers seem to have adverse effects on the candidates. First, it seems to affect their mind and then develop a growing bond with them as they mature. It looks like most women die of cardiac arrest after the flower is removed, but if it's not removed when the flower bloom, it is said that it releases a toxin that kills the host. Eventually, the three candidates we follow become unstable: Yurie's flower withers a little when Dr. Otaki rejects her advances, Miku freaks out and starts ripping out other candidate's flowers, and Haruka rips out her own flower to give it to Miku. This incident leads to the eventual shut down of the project.

The movie could have ended there, but then Kyoko is having an affair with Dr. Otaki. She reveals to him that a flower is budding on her too. Fearing for her safety he cuts it in her sleep, but she wanted it to bloom and seeds, so she leaves him. Otaki goes back to his botanical research. Later he learns that Kyoko's flower grew back and gave seeds, causing her to fall into a coma. He finds shanidar flowers growing all over the city now. It is then revealed that they are a parasitic species possibly responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs and Neanderthal. They will probably destroy all human civilization and bring us to evolve into plants!

That's quite a weird science-fiction movie. Is there an allegory or a metaphor hiding in there? Some new-age cautionary tale about genetically modified plants and evil pharmaceutical companies? I am really not sure of what director Gakuryu Ishii wanted to tell us. The poetic story is interesting, but lacks focus and develops way too slowly (really, I almost fell asleep many times). The acting is barely average, but the sets are nice (despite the low budget) and the photography (with a lovely imagery that sometimes border the psychedelic) as well as the music (cool electric guitar) are also quite nice. Even if the deficient writing is compensated by nice visuals, it remains a rather average movie. (It didn't attract much interest since the 150-seat theatre was only 20% filled)

One interesting point is that the movie (and the name of the flower) is inspired by a real fact mentioned in the movie: an archaeological excavation campaign undertaken in the Shanidar Cave (Northern Irak) between 1957 and 1961 led to the discovery of ten skeletons of Neanderthals. The find of pollen in one of them, indicating that flowers had been buried with the body, was considered evidence of burial ritual. However, recent studies seems to suggest that the pollen was a later contaminant (possibly brought by animals).

Shanidar no hana ( シャニダールの花 / The Flower of Shanidar ): Japan, 2013, 105 min.; Dir.: Gakuryu Ishii; Scr.: Hiroaki Jinno, Gakuryu Ishii, Tomofumi Tanaka; Phot.: Yoshiyuki Matsumoto; Mus.: Michiaki Katsumoto; Cast: Gou Ayano (Kenji Otaki), Haru Kuroki (Kyoko), Kanji Furutachi (Yoshizaki), Ayumi Ito (Yurie), Rio Yamashita (Miku), Yuiko Kariya (Haruka). Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival August 23th, 2013 (Cinema Quartier Latin 15, 16h40) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” segment.
For more information you can visit the following websites:
The Flower of Shanidar © 2012 “The Flower of Shanidar” production committee.

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